Summer in the Alps is the stuff of picture-perfect postcards. Grazing meadows, glacial lakes, bucolic walks, refreshing swims, Alpine hikes and so much more. Sangeetha Sampath suggests 9 must-dos to make your summer holiday in Switzerland, absolutely perfect.
Sunscreen! If there’s one thing you MUST put on your packing list for Switzerland, it has to be sunscreen! Summertime in Switzerland means you’ll spend a lot of time soaking in the sun. From late June through September, the sun bathes the outdoor cafes in warm, golden light, carpets the countryside with lush, green grass and adds a million sparkles to the pristine Alpine lakes. And while winters may see people cosy up around fireplaces (after a good run down the ski slope, of course), summer brings out the exuberance of the Swiss, turning their ever-present smiles into garrulous laughter.
Summertime is when the Swiss come together for their festivals, it’s when operas take place under blue skies and orchestras play in the parks. A summer holiday in Switzerland gives you an insight into the community and the people. Just be sure to book early (by March-April) as hotels and flights can fill up quick (and become pretty expensive!) during the summer months. The best time to visit is during the shoulder season either side of summer—April, May and October. And while we’re sure you have a bucket list of to-dos in Switzerland, here are some you just can’t afford to miss.
# 1 Tune in at La Chaux-de-Fonds
Switzerland is notorious for its punctuality. Here, the 3:17 pm train departs at 3:17 pm. Get onto Swiss time by visiting La Chaux-de-Fonds, a pretty city nestled in the Jura Mountains with the reputation of being Switzerland’s timekeeper. The carillon (a free-standing musical instrument) outside the International Watchmaking Museum chimes the time every 15 minutes through an impressive medley of metallic tunes that change according to the season. Set your watch by it, and you’ll never miss a train in Switzerland.
# 2 Get cultured in Zurich
Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city and the hub of global finance. But if banking is not your thing, don’t fret, Zurich also offers an insight into European living through its restaurants, museums and cultural events. On any given day, there are over 70 cultural events to choose from. Head over to the opera house for some soul-stirring classics or visit one of its nine museums (or all nine, if museums do it for you). Perhaps a symphony is more your thing? After you’ve had your fix of culture, head over to Lake Zurich for a dip in its pristine waters.
# 3 Escape to Chateau de Chillon, Lake Geneva
Hands down, the most beautiful prison in the world. Yes, you read that right. “Beautiful” preceded the word “prison”. Chateau de Chillon, originally built as a castle, functioned as a dungeon for almost 260 years. Set aside an entire day to explore it. There are underground naves, great halls, watchtowers, moats, turrets, residences and more.
And while you are exploring, you can ponder over the one question everyone who has visited here asks: Surely, no prisoner would have wanted to escape this, right?
# 4 Tumble down at the Reichenbach Falls
Perhaps the second-most famous address in the Sherlock Holmes series after 221B, Baker Street. Make this pilgrimage and see for yourself the waterfall (a plaque marks the spot) where Holmes and Moriarty tussled and tumbled, fictionally of course. If you are not a Holmes fan, you can still visit the region for its natural beauty. There are plenty of trails that make for breath-taking hikes.
Pack a picnic and a book. Preferably, a Sherlock Holmes.
# 5 Get spooked at Kindlifresserbrunnen, Bern
It’s probably a coincidence that the name of this 16th century fountain, in the center of old town, Bern, is a mouthful. Or maybe, it’s not. This spine-chilling fountain shows an ogre devouring a child, while a few children squirm uneasily in his other hand. If you feel queasy, or have kids in tow, we suggest you move on. Bern has ten other 16th century fountains depicting mythological and historic figures. You can spend the day fountain-hopping and by evening, we’re sure you’ll have forgotten all about the child-devouring ogre.
# 6 Find Middle Earth at Lauterbrunnen Valley
In 1919, an Englishman visited this valley. He was so taken in by the deep gorges and waterfalls, that he immortalized it as Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings. Take a look for yourself and see the similarities. Walk along the grassy paths that lead from one waterfall to another. Shout out your name and see if the mountains say it back to you. Even if you are no Tolkien, you’ll find yourself spouting prose and poetry.
# 7 Get bizarre at the festivals
The Swiss are a pretty fun lot, with festivals all through the year. But they save the best for summertime. There’s the International Alpine Beard Festival in August. Name a style—goatee, curtain, zappa, soul patch, balbo—and you’ll see it here.
Then there’s the Cow Pat Festival in Valais, which is basically a day devoted to cow dung-pulverizing contests.
And then in September, comes the Alpine Olympics. Disciplines include yodeling, stone throwing and Alphorn-playing. All you need to decide is: participant or cheerleader?
# 8 Get surreal at Giger Bar, Chur & Chateau St Germain
If you thought all of Switzerland was pretty, idyllic, picturesque, then…oh well, you aren’t entirely wrong. But in two tiny corners of this pastoral idyll, lie the Giger Bars. Brainchild of the gifted artist H.R. Giger, the Giger Bar in Chur and the Museum HR Giger Bar in Château St. Germain, Gruyères, are sci-fi themed bars designed by the artist reflecting his biomechanical style made famous in the movie ‘Alien’.
The museum features prosthetics and models from the movie, while the intricately designed, cavernous bars are dark, surrealistic and overwhelming. Sip a beer in the queen alien’s womb, sit in large swivel chairs designed with metallic vertebrae and eat as alien baby heads make their presence felt behind you. Mark this as a definite must-do!
# 9 Wind your way down hills and vales by Postbus
Take your seat amongst sacks of letters and postcards and buckle up for the ride. The Postbus, operated by the Swiss mail system is a pretty unique mode of transport. These lovely yellow busses weave their way through narrow passes and sharp turns to reach isolated villages, where they deliver you and the mail. Explore these little corners of Switzerland to your heart’s content. And don’t forget to send home a postcard from there. Who knows, you might end up sitting next to it on the return journey.
Watch how fascinating Switzerland is! Click play to view the video:
Sangeetha Sampath has three recurring dreams: One: To visit every state in India. Two: To fill her passport with stamps. And three: That instead of 30 days annual leave, her generous company has given her 1 year (paid!) leave.
But then she wakes up and realises she has to go work as the Creative Director of an advertising agency in Bangalore. Long days indeed.
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